Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s slick contemporary Sherlock adaptation has always been a strange beast. Each season is composed of 3 movie-length episodes (plus that one Christmas special), with scripts that used the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories as touchstones while knowingly updating the specifics of the cases. It came out of the gate with a distinctive visual style that helped drag the premise into the present while putting viewers closer to the inner workings of Sherlock’s impressive brain. And more importantly, it starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman — a pairing that seemed to ignite fan obsessions immediately. For Cumberbatch, his role as the high-functioning sociopath turned him into a household name overnight — though to be fair, that might have something to do with the fact that his name is, ah, pretty memorable anyway. And for Freeman, playing the beleaguered doctor/blogger/roommate/friend Watson returned him to the spotlight in a way I’m not sure he’d seen since his days on the original UK version of The Office — and made him recognizable enough worldwide to warrant casting him in everything from The Hobbit to FX’s Fargo. Hell, now that Freeman and Cumberbatch are both ensconced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, maybe we’ll get to see them on screen again someday! Because from the sounds of things, they won’t be reuniting for another season of Sherlock anytime soon.
And apparently, we’re all to blame. Damn us!
In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Freeman discussed the future of Sherlock, saying, “I think after series four [it] felt like a pause. I think we felt we’d done it for a bit now. And part of it, speaking for myself is [due to] the reception of it.”
As a reminder, the “reception” to series four was… not great. I literally just looked up the episode descriptions to remind myself what the fuck happened that season, because apparently I just blocked it all out. SPOILERS if you’re still planning on catching up… they killed Mary off, cock-teased the return of Moriarty, and introduced Sherlock and Mycroft’s crazypants sister for no good goddamn reason. In the end, Sherlock and Watson move back in together and life, apparently, returns to normalcy — thanks to the posthumous urgings of Mary, who probably should have been more concerned with the fate of her baby than the rocky relationship between her husband and his platonic life-mate. Basically, the show ended on whatever the opposite of a cliffhanger is. It ended on a nice warm quilt with a cup of tea in its hand. It ended with the utter lack of any forward momentum. Sure, it COULD pick up the adventures of Cumberlock and Watsman at any time — the pair exists in a blank future full of unsolved mysteries and unwritten blog posts. But the show is also free of any responsibility to do so.
But back to Freeman’s thoughts. He explains that the rabid fanbase had an impact on the show, saying:
“People’s expectations, some of it’s not fun any more. It’s not a thing to be enjoyed, it’s a thing of: ‘You better f——— do this, otherwise you’re a c—-.’ That’s not fun any more.”
For a guy who doesn’t want to live up to fan expectations, he certainly didn’t do himself any favors by signing up to play Bilbo Fucking Baggins, but whatever. Freeman doesn’t just blame the fans for the show petering out — he also acknowledged that, in a way, the show made life hard on itself… by being TOO good:
“To be absolutely honest, it [was] kind of impossible. Sherlock became the animal that it became immediately. Whereas even with The Office [the Ricky Gervais comedy that launched Freeman’s career] it was a slow burn. But Sherlock was frankly notably high quality from the outset. And when you start [that high] it’s pretty hard to maintain that.”
And you know what? I’ll give him that. The show was lightning in a bottle, an inescapable phenomenon that seemed to burst forth with a vision and surety of purpose that’s rare for a TV show. There was no finding its footing for a season or two — Sherlock HAD its footing from the outset, and danced a fucking jig with it. While an episode here or there may not have been on par with the others, it was always only because “the others” were SO good that we, the audience, could afford to be picky. Compared to three seasons of that, the fourth was a letdown. It had its moments, and the performances were still top-notch, but the story was frustrating (and ultimately forgettable). The fans may have made the process less fun to be a part of, but their expectations were set by the show itself.
Well… some expectations, anyway. There is one expectation Freeman still seems hung up on after all this time, and its the fanbase’s determination to ship Sherlock and Watson:
“There was a chunk of people who just knew it was going to end with us getting together,” he says, still sounding exasperated 15 months after the last episode was broadcast.
For the record, then: “Me and Ben, we have literally never, never played a moment like lovers. We ain’t f——— lovers,” he says forcefully.
Sure, guy. Whatever you say.